Anti-wrinkle face serums

Tests show inflated claims and limited results

Last reviewed: May 2010
Illustration of faces as balloons, one deflated and one inflated
Illustration by Harry Campbell

Nothing betrays a woman's age more than wrinkles, according to the 12,699 Consumer Reports online subscribers who responded to our survey about aging. For the many Americans determined to vanquish wrinkles, the market overflows with anti-aging lotions, potions, skin-care regimens, and even body washes that manufacturers claim work magic on your dermal layers—in weeks!

But how well do they really work? Not very, our latest tests show.

We bought nine face serums, a product we haven't tested previously. Serums, which are thinner and more fluid than creams, usually soak into the skin quickly. Those we tested range from $20 to $65 and are available at drugstores, department stores, and specialty beauty stores such as Sephora or online. Almost all are claimed to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Our results are similar to what we found with face creams and included these conclusions:

Results were inconsistent

After six weeks of use, the effectiveness of even the best products was limited and varied from subject to subject. Every serum we tested produced a visual change in wrinkle length or depth for at least one person and did nothing for others.

Improvements were minor

When we did see wrinkle reductions, they were at best slight, and they fell short of the miracles that manufacturers seemed to imply on product labels. We don't know whether using the serums for longer than six weeks would yield a greater improvement. But the dermatologists we consulted said our findings weren't surprising, since the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees cosmetic safety and labeling, doesn't require manufacturers to test the products for efficacy, let alone test for whether they meet their claims, though claims must be "truthful and not misleading."

Natural didn't cut it

Burt's Bees Naturally Ageless Intensive Repairing Serum contained a laundry list of essential oils and no parabens or phthalates. And with a tiny bottle (less than one-half ounce), it was among the priciest products tested in terms of cost per ounce.